Sharks aren't just found in bodies of salt water. The sharks that come to prey on you when disaster strikes are just as happy in fresh water--like the kind that's been pouring into your basement or through your damaged roof.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says this is the time to be extra vigilant when it comes to people knocking on your door offering to fix your storm-related issues. If you're not, you could be in for an even bigger problem.

Scam artists and shoddy contractors are quick to take advantage of people when natural disasters and heavy storms occur. Types of “storm chasing” businesses may include roofing contractors, water removal, landscapers, siding contractors, tree service companies, and window contractors.

Scam artists often try to make money from the misfortunes of other people” says Steve Bernas, president and CEO of Chicago and Northern Illinois Better Business Bureau. “If anyone comes to your door offering to begin work on damage, take their information and tell them that you will follow up if you are interested in using them for repairs.”

Bernas adds, "Everybody wants to get their property fixed and back to normal as quickly as possible. But emotions can over rule good judgement during stressful times. We urge consumers to make careful decisions and find the best crews to do good work at a fair price."

So, like many here in the Rockford area, you've got storm and/or flood damage. How do you go about protecting yourself? Here are some guidelines from the BBB on how to go about choosing the right contractor, repairman, or service company:

  • Do not hire people who show up at your door offering services such as tree or debris removal, roof or water damage repair, etc.
  • Check out the company first with BBB at askbbb.org and deal only with reputable local contractors with top business ratings.
  • Always get a written contract (Never sign a blank or partially blank contract) that specifies the price and services provided, guarantee, and a time frame for repair.
  • When approached by a contractor, ask for proof of licensing and bonding.
  • Try to get multiple quotes from contractors, and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.
  • Do not pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full payment up front.
  • Resist high-pressure sales tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot.
  • In Illinois state law requires a written contract with all costs enumerated for home repair or remodeling work over $1,000.
  • Prices are often high in the immediate aftermath of a storm. Buy only the services that are necessary to make your home safe and habitable. Wait at least a few days to hire other contractors because the rates are likely to drop.
  • Pay by credit card, if possible; for your additional protection if there’s a problem. Otherwise, pay by check. Never pay in cash.
  • Check that the contractor’s vehicle has signs or markings on it with the business name and phone number.

Click here for more information from the BBB for more tips on natural disasters and how to avoid "storm chasing" scams.